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Merging Two Great Arts

Merging Two Great Arts


Often an art exhibition may have music as a background to the work, but can the objects play an integral role in a performance?
Anne Hudson recently spoke with Laura Forbes, director of Art in a Garden, who was invited to curate sculpture by Johnny Turner for an opera performance at Days Bay Garden, in Wellington.

Rhona Fraser produces operas at her home in Days Bay, Wellington. No mere soirée or concert, but a full operatic production. This year it was Agrippina, a delightful opera by Handel. Handel’s music and the beautiful baroque instruments announced the start of the opera, which began with the unveiling of three pieces of Johnny Turner’s sculpture at Opera in a Days Bay Garden.
The actors, musicians and audience clap with delight. The work is theatrically lit and provides the set and background to the lively opera.

Turner saw his work in a new light whereby the works were given a voice of their own within the production. ‘Crescendo’, suggesting voice, is made from Kairuru (Takaka) marble removed from Parliament building, Wellington, when the Beehive annex was installed. ‘Birth of our Islands’, referencing the geological origins of Aotearoa, also made from Kairuru marble, is the metamorphosed remains of marine life from millions of years ago, recycled from the demolished Maritime House, Wellington. A third stunning piece called ‘Helm’ seemed to anchor the stage performance, and the garden.

All three exhibited pieces were beautiful in their own right, but in this setting they were given a new stature.
American essayist Rose Slivka wrote, “Craft makers and artist… [are] reaching inside and beyond the physical nature of the object… The object becomes itself the poet. The object is seen and touched in the language of materials… The artist-shaman invokes invisible forces through the interaction… of the spirit of the material object.” Johnny Turner provides the truth of this statement.

Living and working in his Wellington studio, Turner is largely self-taught. His inspiration arises from personal experience, from a sense of the passage of time and the reuse of materials drawn from deep within the earth as well as an on-going fascination with sources as diverse as classical history, indigenous mythology and Japanese aesthetics. He has to consider the notions of hardness, weight and coldness of marble and stone so as to bring out its soft detail and colouring, making sure the natural properties of each individual stone is retained and enhanced by allowing the form to reveal itself.

Turner’s work is made in both large and small formats suitable for both indoors and outdoors, always offering a deep and sensual motive behind the production of his work. He creates objects that will last forever and speak to us forever.